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18 November 2011


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An interesting read, especially on growth targets and their dangers. I'm genuinely surprised that people calling for the government to come up with a better growth strategy, and the government's unsuccessful search for one, get taken seriously. And that this theatre doesn't face more criticism for its futility.

I'm interested in your views on education policy, though. Would you subject it to spending cuts?

In, say, healthcare policy there is probably a pretty strong consensus that if common sense prevailed, we would start replacing parts of our expensive national cures service with more of a national health service. It's cheaper to ban sweet machines in schools and sell fruit than to buy expensive medical equipment. And there's no downside (children don't have liberty in school anyway).

But in education policy, it seems hard to see any consensus at all. And it's relevant if you think that education affects a country's growth prospects.

Terry Smith

To Guy

Education is not my specialist area and I would not normally volunteer any comment for that reason, but since you asked I would offer the following:

1. No area of spending can be exempt when you need to make spending cuts of the size we require in order to rectify the problems of the UK's public finances, although the social security and health budgets are much bigger potential sources of saving than education simply because they are larger, and health has been seen as a sacred cow;

2. At some point we will be forced to accept that spending on the heath service will have to be cut and the service reduced. Health spending will otherwise represent an ever growing problem. No doubt there can also be some gains in efficiency-I am fond of P J O'Rourke's comment "If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free."-and this article from 2009 about the spend on bureaucracy in the NHS and its cost is a must read; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/6413018/Its-time-to-slay-the-bureaucratic-monster-thats-ruining-the-NHS.html.
I strongly suspect that we could run the NHS without the cost of this bureaucracy and that so-called "front line" services would improve as a result, so not all spending cuts should equal cuts in services; and

3. I agree that education is a vital part of developing a growth strategy for the UK, but I would offer a couple of other observations: that does not mean that there is any utility in the tidal wave of people who now go to "university" in the UK. Almost any survey of employers will show you that "university graduates" are regularly being interviewed by employers who find that they lack basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic. I suspect that part of the furore about university fees is because a degree in community engagement studies doesn't look such a good idea when you have to pay your own fees rather than have them paid by the taxpayer. What we need is more vocational and technical education (I wonder if it is coincidence that Britain is run by a former PR man, America by a former lawyer, and China's leaders are graduate engineers?). I agree with the woman who runs McDonald's in the UK that most current undergraduates would be better off taking a training post with her organisation. I also think that one of the great missed opportunities of British education is the abolition of grammar schools.

Roger Sherrin

I was pleased to see your name in my Spectator.The next day Cameron starts talking about a mortgage guarantee scheme-quite mad. Shortly afterwards he says that debt reduction measures are not working. I am not surprised there has been no urgency from the government, lots of talk but no action.

I find Cameron's judgement is poor- Libya none of our business. Overseas aid-rightly very unpopular. There are many others. There is no sign of smaller government the only cure.I started my business 30 years ago and once employed 16 people. I doubt if I would do it now there are far too many regulations.

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